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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Big Lie

As a recovering political reporter, I'd be the first to acknowledge that the media has some real problems, especially in how it covers public affairs. Gotchas, horse race analysis and he said/she said "dissections" of attacks have been standard fare for so long now that it's pathetic.

The Bush family are among the true masters of the "craft" dating back to the 1988 presidential campaign where George H.W. Bush and his media attack dog Roger Ailes used the flag, the ACLU and Willie Horton to change the subject, slime Michael Dukakis and win the White House.

The Right has a memory problem too -- they think only the Left engages in such tactics (how else does the phrase "to bork" someone come into the lexicon?) And of course there is the canard about "liberal media bias," repeated so long and so often that it sticks in the public's mind. Forget that no less a media manipulator than Karl Rove, in a moment of refreshing candor, proclaimed the media are biased toward against authority, not conservatives.

That selective memory is on vividly on display in Judge Richard Posner's New York Times Review of Books diatribe against the liberal media, all its sins and how bloggers are putting an end to the tyranny. Jack Shafer perform surgery on the arguments with such precision that no more time needs to be spent here.

Rather (ooh, bad word!) let's look at the technique Posner uses (and hope he does not use the same less-than-exacting style in his judicial opinions. Because his is one of the fine examples of The Big Lie, repeating something over and over again -- with selective examples used to bolster your case -- until people believe it.

The Liberal Media became a true American bogey man in the Nixon years, when Vice President Spiro "Nolo Contendre" Agnew, speaking the words of speechwriter (and former New York Times columnist) William Safire began railing against "the nattering nabobs of negativism" and "an effete corps of impudent snobs who call themselves liberals." The dodge worked for awhile, until those darn liberals uncovered the fact Spiro was taking cash in his office and he was forced to resign in disgrace after a plea bargain.

One of the other great wordsmiths of the Nixonian Big Lie was Patrick Buchanan, whose career has taken him from columnist to White House advisor to presidential candidate (and whose speech to the 1992 GOP convention was such an ode to negativism that the running joke was the it sounded better in the original German.)

Are you starting to see a trend here?: Ailes, now uberboss of the Fox News Channel, that great spin machine that parrots GOP talking points and savages liberals all the while insisting it is "fair and balanced;" Safire, the Times' house conservative for eons who labeled Bill Clinton a "congenital liar" as part of the impeachment farce (hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day!); Buchanan, cable TV shoutfest host at a variety of outlets including CNN and a master of the vicious attack. All members of the "liberal" media with the power to shape the discussion.

To be fair (see, I am a liberal!) there are influential Democratic operatives in the media -- Tim Russert of Meet the Press fame and ABC's George Stephanopoulos. But like all weak-kneed liberals they do try to present what might be charitably called the other side with some degree of accuracy.

But with a singlemindedness that the Left should emulate, the Armies of the Right go out daily with talking points that do their bidding -- Rush, O'Reilly, Hannity and bloggers by the score -- all parroting the same points.

The mainstream media, who let us never forget are large corporations in their own right or affiliated with giants like General Electric, have been neutered by the Right's insistence that "fair and balanced" reporting requires an even-handed approach -- even if one side is telling outright fabrications (see for example, Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth or the rest of the story) told only after the Kerry campaign botched their response.

The Big Lie perpetrators have managed to cow the mainstream media into action -- fearing the charge of bias so much that it commits the sin of telling what the Right wants it to say and not what really happened.

The lies have grown longer than Pinocchio's nose-- but no one seems to have noticed. How sad, for democracy.


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